Belinda Varischetti: You might have caught it in the news that the Federal Government has just secured a deal worth about $30 million that we’ll see 18 freight export flights leave Perth over the next eight weeks, and they are going to be full of western rock lobster from the Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-op. As you might have heard on the show yesterday, the western rock lobster trade came to a screeching halt in January due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. However, in recent weeks, things have just started to return to normal in China, which is good news for Australian seafood exporters.
Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says, at the moment, it’s crucial industry keeps delivering product.
Simon Birmingham: What we’ve found is with the collapse in passenger aviation, there’s a real impact that flows through one to our farmers and fishers because more than 90 per cent of freight out of Australia on planes used to go in the bellies of passenger aircraft, and now, those planes aren’t flying and that means for farmers and fishers across the country, they can’t get their premium, high value produce to the export markets that they depend upon for their business. So we’ve stepped in with government support to negotiate a range of new temporary freight mechanisms and here we’re supporting the Geraldton fishers co-operative to be able to get the western rock lobster on planes into markets in Asia and so that they’re actually able to maintain their businesses and support the many jobs that depend upon them.
James Liveris: Yeah. And you’ve secured 18 freight export flights. How many tonnes of western rock lobster will be transported on these flights?
Simon Birmingham: So there’s around 25 tonnes of western rock lobster per flight and of course, the 18 flights. So we’re going to see significant volumes and it’s really crucial for businesses to be able to maintain their reliability as a supplier and, not just in the short term, but also having that confidence of businesses that rely upon to sell their product in market that they’re going to be able to keep delivering into the long term too.
James Liveris: And have there been prices negotiated per kilo for this deal, or would that be subject to change with demand?
Simon Birmingham: So obviously, the commercial fishers are still undertaking commercial sales of their product and this is not a free handout from Government. We’re making sure that they are still paying commercial freight prices with a premium attached to that. This is just about making sure that aircraft are available and that where the costs were going to come uncommercial, that Government is providing some support to help make sure that those flights can take place and deliver the opportunity for fishers to still get product to market, honor their contracts and keep their staff employed.
James Liveris: Now the western rock lobster is seen as a sort of a sign of status over there. It’s not as if it’s a staple food. What’s driving that demand?
Simon Birmingham: So there is a resumption of commercial activity to a degree across China now and that is causing that lift in demand to occur. We know that because it is such a premium status driven product, that it was subject to some of the biggest early impacts of the collapse in demand when all of the Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year celebrations cancelled. But obviously, there’s a bit of making up for that and a bit of resumption of business.
James Liveris: Just lastly, this is going to last for eight weeks. What happens after that?
Simon Birmingham: So, the Government’s put up altogether $110 million to support the freight adjustment mechanism right across the country. We’re looking at longer term solutions as part of this, so that as the likely absence of passenger aircraft remains in place for quite some period of time, we need to make sure the freight flights flow. And so, we’re supporting these as initial ad hoc arrangements, but we’re hoping to then have supported more regular routine freight flights over the months beyond that.
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Belinda Varischetti: Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham with James Liveris. And the first flight left Perth last night. It’s on its way to Xiamen in China. And the Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative CEO Matt Rutter says the support will be instrumental in keeping valuable export dollars flowing through the economy. And he went on to say, without air freight, the industry has no way of getting its products into international markets so the industry is extremely grateful for the Federal Government’s swift response.